Colombia’s grueling roads, toyota tacoma brakes, and lots of toys

Somewhere in Colombia’s coffee country, that familiar sound of worn out brakes started squealing away in the background as we drove. We decided to deal with the problem of finding new toyota tacoma brakes when we got back to Bogota for the third time to pick up my passport (no, we did not optimize our time in Colombia). George removed the pegs that make the noise as a temporary bandage to save our sanity.

As we drove over 4000 meter mountain peaks to Bogota, I tried to block out the state of our front brakes. We were unsuccessful buying brakes at any of the Toyota dealerships in the big B. They simply ‘do not have Tacoma specific parts in Colombia’. ‘We can have them for you in one month’, they said. Hard to believe because Toyota Tacoma parts are almost identical to 4Runner models. They have 4Runners in Colombia as well as the similar Toyota Hilux (what the Tacoma is called everywhere else).  It seemed like the guys behind the counter did not want to use their heads and work with us.

On the way out of town for the last time, we swung by the Pasion 4X4 Adventura store that George had seen one day driving along the highway.  We stopped in search of new back shocks. The parking area in front of Pasion 4X4 Adventura was full of big toys (off-roading vehicles), a good sign.

Pasion 4X4 Adventura

Pasion 4X4 Adventura

Pasion 4X4 Adventura didn’t have the shocks we were looking for, but they had  Samuel Olarte and Jose Luis, two of the friendliest guys we have met on our trip so far!  Both Jose and Samuel spoke great English and were both Toyota off-road junkies :).  Jose had a Toyota Land Cruiser 1998 (I might be 2 years off on the model) and Samuel had the Toy monster featured below :).

The toys in the parking lot

Samuel and his Toy…

The guys quickly offered to help (Jose, Samuel you are welcome to come visit in the states anytime you want!). Jose offered to take George over to the auto parts area of town. It would have been ill advised for us to go it alone because chances were good we would get ripped off. Samuel offered the use of the store’s facilities for free to lift the car and take the old brakes as a model to make sure we bought the right part.  And now a technical interlude from George since a little clarification is in order:

We had to take both front wheels off at the same time thanks to the hack (literally) the last mechanics in Nicaragua made.  If you remember from this post, those  ‘mechanics’ put both outside pads on one wheel and when they got to the other wheel they had to modify (cut) the one pad since one of them did not fit. We had to take one pad from both wheels to make a full set!  Thank you Leon – we will never forget you.

Miraculously, George returned with a set of good brakes and another set just in case. One set was dubbed ‘original Toyo’ parts and one set was a Chinese knockoff.  You could tell by the difference in price – $90 and $25. George had decided to buy a spare set just in case since the knockoffs were so cheap

New brake pads were great news because the next possible place to find brakes would have meant many more miles of mountain roads.  The pieces of s$%t the mechanics in Nicaragua installed were completely done.  Did I mention those brake pads lasted only 3000 miles.

At the end of the day, we had new brakes and a opportunity to speak with Samuel and Jose. Man, it’s nice when you desperately need something and in walks some off-roading guardian angels to assist.

Replacing our Toyota Tacoma 2003 brakes

Replacing our Toyota Tacoma brakes

To the Yucatan

Do you remember one of your teachers asking you what the best day of your life was in third grade?  Well, when asked, I answered that it was the day L.Batt. came into the world.  There have been many amazing days since, but it often crosses my mind how boring our family would be without the youngest daughter.  It should also be known that I love (LOVE) surprising people (and hate to be surprised).

So I had my mind set on surprising Lynds in Cancun.  I let her know that it was too far out of the way and then cut off contact a week before she was set to arrive in Cancun.  George and I literally drove two weeks straight of 7+ hour days across Mexico to get to Cancun.  In all honesty, my contribution to that was small.  G was a trooper.  The first road we had to take out of Oaxaca was over a mountain pass in Mexico.  Did you know that the Mexican interior is all mountains?  Anyways, it took us 6 hours to drive the mountain pass.  We calculated about 21 turns a mile.  If you put your hands in front of you like you’re grasping a wheel and move them from side to side at a reasonable pace, you’ve grasped the ab workout we endured.  We were both car sick.

It took us 3 days to drive from Oaxaca to Cancun.   I was bubbling over with excitement.  G had managed to find a campground right beside the five star resort Lynds was staying at.  When we pulled in, I was frantically emailing Brian who I was colluding with to organize the surprise.  Meanwhile, G walked out to the beach.  The resort was preparing for a wedding.  I wasn’t sure if it was ‘the wedding’ Lynds was attending until I heard country music.  This was definitely a Mitchell (small town – south western Ontario) wedding.  G was in the shower when the wedding was wrapping up.  I told him I was going to make my move if they started leaving.  Thankfully, he made it out to the beach in time because he would have been pissed if I went in without him.

We spotted Brian who directed us at the wedding party.  They had just finished up a toast.  I was a little apprehensive to disrupt the festivities, but with Brian’s prodding, I got in there.  Lyndsay turned around and started sobbing (awesome).

We spent a few days catching up with them (which I’m immensely grateful for) and partying at the resort.  Thanks to happy newlyweds (Maureen and Trevor) for putting up with us.

PS.  (placeholder for cursing).  Our food container, tent and basically everything we own was invaded by thousands of tiny ants.  We used a garbage bag to build a moat in the sand around the ladder.  This was successful until the ladder punctured the plastic and the water drained out.  What a well-adapted species.  We hosed down the tent, drove hundreds of miles, and those damn things were still climbing out of everywhere when we popped the tent in Belize.



Baja 1000

We left Tucson, AZ on 27th aiming to get to La Ventana, Baja 3 days later. Google maps put us on a 1,179 miles rout going on some shady small roads away from rout 1 (the main and only road South).  It was kind of a strange decision from Google’s part but after a quick research (again on Google …) we decided 160km of dirt road was doable.  After all we did 960 miles of dirt roads in Yukon so what is 160 km …

The drive started well.  We made it to Mexicali without any problems.  We crossed the border relatively smoothly as well.  I say ‘relatively’ since our Washington tabs had expired, hence our title was also expired and the border folks gave us some grief about it.  Basically we got bounced between two offices a few times.  The ordeal quickly ended when some guy eventually decided to just stamp our docs and scribble something in Spanish on our paperwork.  In case you wonder, he did not ask us for any other docs and did not see or inspect the car at all.  He just stared blankly at the ceiling, scratched his head and scribbled something…  We got cleared with 30 mins delay but no extra cost so we were happy.  To be honest there is nothing we could have done to fix the title expiration.  To get new tabs in Washington (ooooh, lovely WA DMV! …) we have to go trough emissions in Washington state, which means we have to be physically present and that’s not gonna happen…  I am just going to Photoshop our problem away one of these days.

Ok, so back to the drive story.  We crossed Mexicali around dusk and headed South.  First camping spot was San Felipe.  Nice little town on the Gulf of California.  Nothing much interesting about this place except that they had two story camping huts on the beach.  The huts looked like a great idea if you sleep in a tent on the beach. Day two of our trip we left the campsite around 9:00 am.  We had an ambitious plan to drive almost 500 miles that day.  We were so wrong. The first 50 miles of the drive were uneventful.  All of a sudden however the road improved dramatically.  Brand new asphalt, wide shoulders (there are no shoulders on the roads usually in Mexico) and no traffic.  I was happily zipping with 70mph.  Didn’t make much of the road conditions.  We had loaded driving directions on google maps on our phone the night before.  At some point Teresa noticed that we were consistently moving a little bit off the google directions on the phone.  Turned out we were driving on a brand new road which had replaced the 160km of dirt road we had to cross that day.  Well, partially replaced.  Soon we ran out of luck.  The new pavement ended in a pile of dirt and a bunch of old bent barrels … We were up for 75km of some of the most annoying dirt road we have done.  Lots of really sharp rocks.  Dozens of shredded car tires on the side of he road.  Super dry and super dusty conditions.  Max driving speed was 15mph.  We spent the next 2 and a half hours driving in this madness.

Eventually we made it out.  That day we did 360 miles instead of 500, which left us with almos a 400 miles stretch for the last day.  Long story short we made it to La Ventana the 3rd day with some day light to spare to set our camp.  On the way we saw some amazing camping places on the Gulf of California side.  If you are interested to invest in some cheap really cool real-estate you might want to lookup this brand new highway/road they are building South of San Felipe.  The area is really unexplored and the road is opening up a lot of possibilities.  You will be able to get land which is only 2 and a half hours from the US border right on the water for really good prices.  Most people will not know the road is there.  Believe me when I say that anybody who has driven on those dirt roads will not want to go back there for a long time …

The Alaska Highway – the road the war built

We hopped on the Alaska Highway in Yukon and drove it into British Colombia. The Alaska Highway was built during World War II to connect the contiguous US to Alaska. On the highway George and I experienced our first deep freeze of the tent, saw plenty of wildlife, toured through a signpost forest, and took a dip in some hot springs.